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Sixty years of caring: Sister retiring from Sacred Heart gets parade send-off

Sister Rosalie Locati is overcome with joy as she see friends at a reception after a big send-off parade for her retirement.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Sister Rosalie Locati is overcome with joy as she see friends at a reception after a big send-off parade for her retirement. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Sister Rosalie Locati accepted a call 22 years ago to encourage caregivers – regularly wandering the hallways and nooks of Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.

Locati, 79, started her religious life as an educator and at first declined repeated taps to be the hospital’s director of mission and values. When she embraced the role, she sought to remind hospital employees of Sacred Heart’s call to healing. And she frequently urged prayer.

This week she’s retiring after 60 years of service. Her time included teaching and years mentoring Washington State University students. At Sacred Heart, she gained respect for compassion and humor. And Thursday, Locati reluctantly agreed to some fuss over her. Staff organized a parade send-off, with her in a convertible.

The parade route ran near Providence Holy Family Hospital, Sacred Heart and the Children’s Hospital and St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Center. Health care workers lined the streets with bubble makers, cutouts of Locati’s face, bells and pompoms. An afternoon reception in the Healing Garden on the Sacred Heart campus let employees wish her well.

Fighting breast cancer, Locati said she’ll now spend more time with friends and family, reading and walking. Locati expects to be the last among the Sisters of Providence to be an everyday presence at Sacred Heart, as some sisters serve elsewhere and their numbers are fewer.

“My role here has always been to be a presence, a voice and an advocate for living the mission to be expressions of God’s healing love, because love heals, whether or not one has a faith tradition,” Locati said. “My role has always been to accompany, mentor, model and learn from all of our caregivers, leaders, patients and their families.”

She reminded others to live the core values through behaviors and actions that respect the dignity of each person – whether the other disagreed, held different beliefs or were angry. She urged compassion to hear pain or anxiety of a patient, relative, another caregiver or leader. It’s crucial to have a heart for the poor and vulnerable, but that’s not just economically, she said.

“It means people who are emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, physically, economically poor. Any of us are among the poor and vulnerable, so I would try to help our caregivers who are the frontline, the people working in communications, the lab, environment services, groundskeepers – that every person contributes to that loving action of healing.

“I was able to tell them part of that story to remind them that it’s a greater story than what ours is. The mission doesn’t belong to the sisters, it doesn’t belong to the people, it doesn’t belong to the Providence organization. It’s the mission of God, the Gospel mission. It’s the healing, educational or social mission that belongs to all of humanity to care for one another and to love.”

Becky Nappi, retired Sacred Heart mission leader and previously a longtime Spokesman-Review reporter, said hospital employees will miss Locati beyond her absence. The two have been friends since 2005, when they met in a community prayer group.

“We hit it off because we’re both 100% Italian, extroverts and we’re not shy to express our opinions,” Nappi said. As COVID began, and after her call to pray, Nappi said leaders began a regular reciting of the rosary, emails with mission reflections and a call-in recorded prayer.

“She was always the voice of, ‘We need to pray,’ ” Nappi said. “She didn’t say, ‘Pray, darn it,’ but it was that tone of voice.”

Locati can describe details about campus places, including a convent once there and a former pool that nurses used, but the sisters would sneak in some swims.

Although staff will continue the mission and values work, Locati’s departure likely is the end of an era. During the 1950s, about 10 to 20 Sisters of Providence regularly served on the medical campus, Locati said. Today, 10 Sisters of Providence live in Spokane. Most are retired.

The Sisters of Providence religious community was founded in 1843 by Emilie Tavernier Gamelin, in Montreal. Later, Esther Pariseau among them was named Mother Joseph of the Sacred Heart and founded the Sisters of Providence missions in the West.

At Father Joseph Cataldo’s request, Mother Joseph designed and supervised the 1886 construction of the first 31-bed Sacred Heart hospital for Spokane Falls.

Locati said she talked about such roots, “to remind us that we are a religious organization.”

“We don’t force it on anyone, proselytize, try to convert. What we do is to say by our actions, God will be the action of love through us because we’re the agents, the hands, the voice, the activity of God, so that people know they’re loved.

“They’ll be restored to health, to family, to community. They may die, but they will not die alone. They will die with compassion, knowing that they’re getting loving care, even if they are angry. We have this beautiful promise that says, ‘Know me, care for me, ease my way.’ ”

Sometimes, she’d hear about a heavy patient load. “I’d say, ‘Oh yes; however, you only have one person at one time, so give that one person your whole presence, and then you go to the next person.’ ”

Locati’s work took her from staff orientations and one-on-one talks to administrative tables. Raised in Walla Walla by an Italian Catholic family, Locati’s parents regularly invited priests and sisters to visit. Sisters were her school teachers and Locati said she always wanted to become a sister. A cousin challenged $20 that she’d never complete her vows. He paid up.

Graduating from Seattle University, she was assigned to teach grade school in Missoula and Great Falls. In 1975, she was vocation director on the Tri-Province formation team and got a master of theology degree at Saint Mary’s College. By 1980, Locati moved here as Spokane Diocese co-director of vocations.

In 1984, she became campus minister for the St. Thomas More Catholic Newman Center at WSU.

She said her Sacred Heart years included sad days, but many fun times. She’d wear a traditional religious habit during a missions week. Locati found new inspiration in a Winnie the Pooh card sent by a cousin after her 2020 cancer diagnosis. Pooh tells Piglet, “Today is my favorite day.”

For the parade, she wore a shirt saying that.

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